Wednesday, June 18, 2008

The World According to John Hughes

John Hughes is a terrific writer, but he will always be remembered for his teen 80’s movies. With just six films, all of which he wrote and four of which he directed, he changed how films looked at teenagers and indeed, how they looked at themselves. Through rose colored lenses that I always imagine in the style of frames he wore, he made his protagonists as relatable as possible, in order for his audience to absorb his message and identify with the characters on screen. He was successful, and I think, too successful.

I remember high school and as my ten year reunion is fast approaching on me, I think about more often than I probably should. Though I graduated from a small high school in suburban Oregon (not unlike Shermer, Illinois), my life did not resemble a John Hughes movie in the slightest. A Kevin Smith movie perhaps, but not John Hughes. In fact, I have a high school trilogy for myself of three films that instantly take me back to those years and there is not one of his films on my list. I was a young kid watching his movies, again and again, over and over into my high school years. I wanted be like Anthony Michael Hall so bad! But, over the years, especially after graduating, attending college and looking back, I think John Hughes let me down.

His characters faced problems just like us, go through their changes (notably in Breakfast Club), and emerge as better people by the end. But, they prove this by doing the most illogical actions they can take. They do exactly the opposite of what any teenager would have done. If we had tried to do as we watched our movie star counterparts had done, we would’ve faced humiliation, exile and possibly federal jail time.

In examining each movie, we can see how different his reality was from our own.

Sixteen Candles (1984)

John Hughes Reality – The most popular guy in school is really just pining away for the shy fifteen year old girl at school. Despite the geeks, foreign exchange students and drunken girlfriends, he’s going to win her over.

Not really a fair description of the film, I know, since it is Molly Ringwald’s movie. But, that always bothered me too. They both like each other, I guess, then just kind of stumble around until they meet at the wedding? Jake is not a man of action, Farmer Ted is. Plus, the movie unfairly perpetuates stereotypes of Asian Americans. “Automobiiiiiile?”

Reality- The most popular guy in school is usually a jerk and never ends up leaving that town, selling insurance and spending every night in the same bar for thirty years. The shy girl ends up losing her virginity to her best friend who is madly in love with her (more on Pretty in Pink later) and then leaves him in the friend zone until she is in her thirties, by which time, he will be married with children.

Breakfast Club (1985)

John Hughes Reality - A group of five students from different cliques come together in Saturday school and learn they have more in common than not. Friendships are made and romances bloom.

Has anyone ever been to detention?
Ok, now was anybody in detention and NOT supervised constantly? Maybe it was different in the 80’s and people were more trusting, I’ll buy that. But, the characters talk repeatedly about how they cannot be friends with each other for fear of upsetting the natural balance at school, but they end up bucking the system anyway? The only part that is actually true at all is that good girls do go for the bad boys. Sorry, Brian, however…

Reality – The jock does not end up with the weird girl. Sure, we all saw Juno and we know they want to, but they don’t. Besides that, the whole reason that high school cliques exist is so that we don’t have to interact with each other. I never talked to the Mexicans at my school and I am Mexican! But, I wasn’t in there group. (I was in the pothead clique.) And those divisions follow on well into college, where the smarter individuals let go of them and get laid and the stubborn ones hold on and join a frat.

Weird Science (1985)

John Hughes Reality - Two ‘nerds’ create the perfect woman, willingly to do anything they desire, who gives them the confidence to discover who they are really capable of being. They in turn enlist her to help win over two less attractive women and throw the biggest party ever.

Where do I start? The movie’s saving grace from the sheer absurdity of both the logic and the logic are, in order Kelly LeBrock, Robert Downey Jr. and Bill Paxton. Sorry, but showering with Kelly LeBrock, then trying to hook up with two high school girls? About as liking as creating a virtual woman in real life.

God, I love Kelly LeBrock

Reality – Two guys invent woman on computer, willingly to do anything they desire. They build a copy, mass market the software and never leave the house until they die.

Pretty in Pink (1986)

John Hughes Reality – The poor, cute girl from the wrong side of the tracks hooks up with… blah, blah, blah. This is same song, second verse for John Hughes/Molly Ringwald.

Ok, so everyone knows that Duckie is perfect for Andie, right? (And that Jon Cryer is perfect as Duckie) But, did you know that the original ending was for the two of them to get together until Molly Ringwald objected because she wasn’t attracted to Jon Cryer? Can you believe that?! Did she have any idea how emotionally crippling that would be the young men everywhere who didn’t have Andrew McCarthy’s good looks? Incidentally, had Robert Downey Jr. been cast as Duckie instead of Jon Cryer, Ringwald said she wouldn’t have minded ending up with him. The nerve of this girl! She got everything that was coming to her. Jon Cryer is a successful TV star and Robert Downey Jr. is the biggest movie star on the planet at the moment. Ringwald? We hardly knew ye.

This is my least favorite John Hughes movie.

Reality – Cute girl stays with rich boy until he dumps her. She sleeps with a bunch of his friends, trying to make him notice her again. She tries to reach out to best boy friend again, who has married older, hipper female friend (Annie Potts) of cute girl. They own a studio and have a child with an asexual name who enjoys karate and Elvis Costello. Cute girl becomes trophy wife for older man.

Some Kind of Wonderful (1987)

John Hughes Reality – Poor boy seeks the heart of pretty, popular girl. With the help of tom boy best female friend, he wins her heart while realizing that tom boy is the only girl for him.

Here we have a twist on the previous theme with a male protagonist, which should have resulted in a different narrative. But, instead of sticking with the same ending, John Hughes twists it around on us. Molly Ringwald won’t end up with Anthony Michael Hall or Jon Cryer, but Eric Stoltz has Lea Thompson, (Lorraine Banes!) and goes BACK to Mary Stuart Masterson? What is John Hughes trying to tell us? In Say Anything, does John Cusack hook up with Ione Skye and then turn around start dating Lily Taylor? NO! Thank you, Cameron Crowe, for giving me some hope as an adolescent.

Reality - Poor boy seeks the heart of pretty, popular girl. With the help of tom boy best female friend, he wins her heart. END OF STORY.

Lest anyone think that his post is dedicated solely to bashing John Hughes, allow me to retort. I am a fan of his work (Mr. Mom, Vacation, etc.), do not think he gets enough credit for what he does, own most of his movies and still think everyone should watch them. In fact, he did one of my favorite movies of all time.

Ferris Bueller’s Day Off - 1986

John Hughes Reality – Cool kid skips school with his girlfriend and best friend. They hit the town and have the time of their lives on one perfect day.

The scene where Ben Stein lectures the class on voodoo economics as everyone stares blankly is the most accurate depiction of a high school EVER. And that’s part of what grounds the movie in reality. For a film where Ferris does things most of us will never do such as catch a fly ball at a baseball game, ride on a float, drive a Ferrari, kiss Mia Sara and break the fourth wall, the movie is extremely realistic. Who has never ditched class, try to do something, anything with little to no cash and avoid getting caught? Near the end, where the three of them are sitting around the pool reminds me so much of days I used to cut class with my friends and after failing to find anything to do, ended up lounging around and enjoying the day.

But, here’s the rub. The movie isn’t even about Ferris, it’s about Cameron. It’s Cameron who is really changed by the day’s events and comes out a better person for it. To me, Cameron represents us as the audience, along for the ride with Ferris. He shows us the real lesson, that there are consequences to living a lifestyle like Ferris’ but having that freedom to be young and make mistakes is what high school is all about.

My favorite part of this movie: Charlie Sheen.

Reality - Cool kid skips school with his girlfriend and best friend. They hit the town and have the time of their lives on one perfect day. All three remember that day fondly as long as they live. And so will we.


Paul Arrand Rodgers said...

Pretty In Pink has a nerd lip synching to "Try a Little Tenderness." That has to be good for something...

I like it better than 16 Candles, in any event.

Michael J. Mendez said...

Yes, Jon Cryer doing his Otis Redding is fantastic, but do you like it more than Anthony Michael Hall, Gedde Watanabe AND John Cusack? I'll sit thru Sixteen Candles again.

Fletch said...

Very cool piece. I miss John Hughes, and am saddened when I think of how far his career has fallen (whether that was in parts his own doing or not).

I'm kind of a bad fan, though, and a bad kid of the 80s, as I've not even seen half the films listed here. For me, Hughes has always been mostly about Breakfast Club, Weird Science, Uncle Buck and Ferris more than anything, though, so I've never felt like I was missing too much (plus, I always thought PiP and 16 Candles were for girls...weren't they?).

Speaking of Buck, where is he here? I still really enjoy that flick. I miss Candy.

Michael J. Mendez said...

I too think PiP and 16C are for girls, mostly. I liked Uncle Buck but I never kept it in the same league as the teen movies. So, alas, despite Macaulay Culkin, I didn't include it here. Besides, isn't Planes, Trains and Automobiles are better Candy/Hughes movie?

Andrea aka Razafirme said...

Come on, tomboy?

REALITY Mary Stuart Masterson comes out her first year in college, is now with a woman name Heather and loves dogs and is a vegan.

I always wished she would have ended up with Duckie and when I realized that originally, she would have, a deep, seething resentment unleashed inside me. I will say this, however, I think her decision to end up with Andrew McCarthy (who has the sweetest little mouth...ever) is very telling of the time - the 80's were all about money, greed, power. It was the time of Wallstreet, Alex P. Keaton and Reagonomics. Of course test audiences wanted her to end up with the rich guy. Had that movie been made during the grunge years (90's) she would have totally ended up with Duckie. Had the movie come out now, she may have ended up with MS Masterson....

Great blog, as always. You OWN this shit, man....

Michael J. Mendez said...

I didn't want to make the obvious lesbian connection, but you're probably right.

I think the 90's version is right on, but the current version would have all three of them trying to get some group sex in while keeping it PG-13.